Sunday, October 26, 2014

Technology, Religion and a Short Story


                                                            


This posting started out as a piece on technology.  I then swung over to some ideas about religion.  After looking at the two articles, I decided the best way to tie them together would be with a short story.  The one that came to mind, from my archives, is at least ten years old, and it remains one of my favorites.  It has appeared before on the blog, but it is worth reading again, especially after digesting my thoughts on technology and religion.
JL





                                                                   

The Limits of Technology

Technology is faster than we are.  It looks as if there are no limits to what our electronic technology can do.  Computers are quickly becoming ancient history now with smart phones and even smarter tablets opening the world to anyone who possesses them. Everything is becoming digitalized.  How many applications can a person load into their device and actually make use of?  How many articles from how many sources can one read on line?  How many films can one record, or download, or purchase to view or store to view later?  But when is that “later” going to arrive, and will it include enough time to look at them?
   
A person can literally be on line via a computer or other device twenty-four hours a day doing important things, reading fiction, important articles on finances, economics or whatever else interests them.  But there are only a certain number of hours in a day.  You have every movie ever made at your fingertips.  You have every magazine article and book ever published at your fingertips. You have university level courses on almost every subject at your fingertips.  You can shop for and purchase anything you want.  You can communicate with anyone else in the world and they can communicate with you, whether you want them to or not.   And there are games upon games upon games to play endlessly. 

The limits of technology are the hourly limits of human beings’ awakedness on a daily basis as well as the limit posed by human life expectancy.  Technology reaches its human barrier when the user has to go to sleep for the day, or forever, without having gotten to all of the electronically accessible applications and sites that they intended to visit.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-kB0jm4ZXlJE/T_r-oX64TzI/AAAAAAAAANQ/YYb3X35Iz6I/s1600/girl+sleeping+at+computer.JPG

In addition to these “human” limits, technology also has economic limits.  Accessing it is not free.  It requires money for devices and downloads, and that money has to be earned somehow, and doing so reduces the time available to attempt to fully utilize available technology.  Devoted users of technology still have to have a “day job” unless they are rich or retired, preferably both.

There are alternatives to getting involved in a seemingly endless race to keep up with what technology offers today.  Newspapers and other periodicals are available in print or online which can give one a handle on what is going on in the world, including the world of technology.  Reading such publications regularly can give a person a good basis for deciding how deeply they want to delve into what technology now offers.  We should be taking advantage of technological advances in a very selective manner. 

It’s like going for dinner in an “all you can eat” buffet, where there’s an endless offering of roast beef, steak, lobster, lamb chops, shrimp, fish, vegetables, pasta, omelets, soups, stews, breads, cakes, pies, puddings, sandwiches, ice cream, beverages, etc. etc.  You can’t eat it all.  You'll explode! So it should be with technology.
Jack Lippman


                                                              


Barking Up the Wrong Tree

There have been, and continue to be, many religions in the world.  Judaism, and its two major spin-offs, Christianity and Islam, pretty much dominate the religious spectrum today, along with Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths of Eastern Asia, but even within these groups, there are numerous divisions and variations.
Vatican City, Seat of Roman Catholicism


There continue to be, particularly in isolated regions of the world, many other religions which are still practiced to a lesser or greater extent.  And there are many which were significant in the past but no longer exist.



All religions exist because human beings want explanations for the things they do not understand, for the origin of the universe, what "life" is and why things happen the way they do.  Science answers many of these questions, but not to the satisfaction of everyone.  Some believe that there is a scientific, physical, explanation for everything, and if we do not know it right now, eventually we will.  They are comfortable without religion.  Others prefer to accept a religious answer to these questions, or do so in combination with scientific answers.

Does Science have the answers?



There are firm believers in all of the major and minor religions on our planet, people who are deeply committed to believing their faith is the correct one.  If one faith indeed does offer the correct answers, then a lot of firm believers in other religions have been barking up the wrong trees for centuries.  Therefore, let’s assume that they are all correct and that there is no “wrong tree.”


Buddhist Monks Praying


Of course, firm believers in any faith cannot admit this.  They have the answers in their faith and to them, those following other faiths do not. Therein lies the problem which has resulted in the many forced conversions, blood baths and wars based on religion which we have experienced throughout history and continue to experience.  This is a problem which we have yet to solve.


One possibility which occurs to me is that it is conceivable that one religion out there, and it might be one of the “majors” or one of the ancient ones with few adherents today, actually may have what really is the correct answer! 
 
If that turns out to be the case, and it can be irrefutably proven that the Pope in Rome, the Mullahs throughout the Middle East, the saffron-robed Monks in Tibet, the Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem and the bible-thumping evangelists in the rural South all are dead wrong in what they believe, what happens then?  I suppose nothing would change because the deeply devout in a variety of faiths will never accept it, however strong the evidence is!  That’s why there is no “wrong tree.”  The world has to get that through its collective head.  Before it’s too late.
JL


                                                              


And here's that short story that touches on both technology and religion.


Future Radio 

Jack Lippman





When I picked up my new car at the dealership and the salesman went over all of the goodies which were included, I remember asking about an unfamiliar looking purple sticker on the radio.



“I dunno what that is, never saw it before,” he had said, “but I’ll check it out with the service department and call you if it means anything.  Probably some extra examination the car went through.  They’re always adding new procedures to make sure everything works fine, and your car checks out great!”  And after three months of enjoying the pleasures of owning that car, that was exactly my opinion too!



Except for the radio.  As soon as I had gotten home with the car, I tried to set the radio push buttons for the stations to which I usually listen.  It wasn’t an easy job, because whenever I pressed a button to set a station, the words FUTURE OPTION kept popping up briefly on the digital dial screen.  I studied the manual but found nothing about that in it.  I even called the dealership but they weren’t able to help either.  Finally, after setting up the push buttons the way I wanted them, my curiosity got the best of me about this FUTURE OPTION thing, whatever it was, and I started fiddling around with the buttons when I saw those two words flashing on the screen.  After a few tries, I accidentally hit the SEEK and SCAN buttons simultaneously and to my surprise, the words started flashing even more rapidly and changed to a purple color.  Frankly, I didn’t know what to do next but to my amazement, the screen started scrolling upward and now read in blinking purple letters, TONY, PUSH SEEK AND SCAN TOGETHER NOW TO CONTINUE.  Somewhere between being frightened out of my wits by this radio which apparently knew my name, and being unable to resist the temptation to find out what was going on, I took a deep breath and simultaneously pressed the SEEK and SCAN buttons once more.

My entire body starting shaking when next I heard a deep voice, resonating through eight Bose speakers announcing, “Welcome to the future.  We wondered how long it was going to take you to figure out how to get here, Tony.  Although you car’s manufacturer will deny it, and rightly so since they know nothing of what I am about to tell you, your car’s radio system has been selected by a technology you are not capable of understanding to be equipped with a special band enabling you to listen to future radio broadcasts.  By simply moving the tuning arrows, which will reflect digits from 100 to 1000, you will be able to tune in on radio broadcasts from one hundred to one thousand years into the future.  Development of this system is not yet sufficiently advanced to enable you to select the frequencies to which you may listen, but generally, transmissions of news or current affairs stations will be provided.  In order to make certain that you, or the next few generations of your offspring, Tony, will not be able to profit from information heard on these broadcasts from the future, the system has been programmed so that it cannot access broadcasts in the relatively near future, that is, within the next hundred years.  We hope this limitation will not lessen your enjoyment of your Future Radio experience!”

After my initial shock wore off, I started tuning in on the future.  At first tentatively, but shortly with the gusto of a computer surfer who just went on line, I found that I was able to listen to English language newscasts which reported what was going on in the world and depending on how far into the future I tuned, even in the rest of our solar system over the next thousand years.

Now, just to set things straight and answer what might be the most obvious questions of anyone who is reading this, insofar as I have been able to discern from my future listening experience thus far, it appears that a world-wide nuclear war did not take place during the next millennium.  In fact, it appears that weaponry of mass destruction for use on our own planet was not a significant factor in the future.  I would guess that something occurred during the next hundred years, which of course I was not able to listen in on, to resolve that problem or at least push it into the background.  I did, however, listen to a few broadcasts from about five hundred years down the road when people on our planet did use what sounded like a very sophisticated weapons system to prevent a force from another part of the universe from colonizing another planer in our solar system.  Apparently, there was great loss of life in this venture, and a holiday memorializing it started being celebrated throughout the planet shortly thereafter.

Through the future centuries, however, I heard many, many broadcasts dealing with an ongoing struggle the earth’s human population was waging against the planet’s insect, bacterial and viral populations.  Most of the world’s technical and financial resources seemed to be devoted to this apparently very exhausting battle against these other forms of life for control of the planet.

But beyond this necessarily brief summary of what I have learned about what will occur during the next millennium, let me report to you on what I feel is, thus far, the most memorable story which I heard while tuned in on news broadcasts from the future.

It is unusual in that while I failed in my earlier attempts to record these transmissions, I had no difficulty whatsoever in making a tape of this particular broadcast, and with such ease that I suspect that it was intended that I be able to do so.  Here is the tape, which reproduces a narration by a gentleman I presume to be a Walter Cronkite type in the year 2752.

“It has been three days now since observers have been reporting seeing what appears to be a horse and rider in the sky circling the planet.  Although readily visible with rudimentary telescopes and occasionally to the naked eye, authorities have been unable to approach the horse and rider, due to a force field of some kind surrounding it.  Since it does not appear to be hostile, is not interfering with our sky routes and probes indicate that it does not possess weaponry, government action at this point has been limited to continuous observation.”

“Reaction among the Earth’s population, however, has not been so reserved.  Although traditional religions are still legally permitted to be practiced on Earth, most of the world’s population, for better or for worse, have limited their faith to a simple belief, far short of worship, in an omnipotent power, similar to what in the past was referred to as God.  Nevertheless, many groups on the planet still do have knowledge of and follow some of the old rituals historically used in worshiping this power, or God, as they still often call it, and it is these groups that have been particularly enthusiastic in attributing great significance to the appearance of the horse and rider.”

“Leaders of the Muslim religion have announced that the horse and rider are nothing more than the promised return of their Prophet, Mohammed, who had ridden off on his horse to Heaven centuries ago from an elevated area in Jerusalem.  The Catholic Church, from its offices in the Vatican City, has proclaimed that while no horse was actually needed to carry him, close-up views seen by equipment at the Georgetown University Observatory leave no doubt that the rider is actually Jesus Christ, coming again as proclaimed by his followers.  Protestant leaders have echoed this Catholic assertion.  And in Jerusalem, Orthodox Jews in black hats can be seen dancing in the streets, firmly believing that although the Messiah they expect is neither Mohammed nor Jesus Christ, what is going on certainly indicates that this is a most propitious time to expect his arrival.”

“And so it was that this morning when the horse and rider were expected to swoop down, setting foot on the ground near Jerusalem, there were nearly two million Muslims, Christians and Jews assembled waiting in awe.  Among them were the leading clerics of what formal religions are still being practiced on Earth.  The planet’s leading ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and holy men of all varieties, sizes and shapes had come there and shared a set of bleachers authorities had quickly set up when their tracking systems confirmed the time and place of the impending landing.  Finally, as the horse and rider touched down amidst the din of a million prayers being chanted, whispered, wailed and mumbled in a myriad of tongues, there was reported an overpowering gleam of light filling the sky, forcing all present to raise their hands to shield their eyes at the same time as a sudden and eviscerating silence blanketed the assemblage.  When the gathered believers finally dropped their hands from their faces and opened their eyes and looked before them, there was neither horse nor rider to be seen.  And then, as if following some universal but silent directive, the crowd quickly dispersed amidst a warming, unnatural and all-encompassing calm which seemed to pervade the atmosphere and seep into the consciousness of every individual there, imparting a sweet feeling of well-being.  They all smiled inwardly knowing, if they were Muslim, that their Prophet had returned and if they were Christian, that the resurrected Jesus had come again, and if they were Jewish, that the Messiah now walked among them, all of which means, I guess, that in the eyes of believers, God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.  This is Correspondent   4456 reporting from Jerusalem.”

Frankly, I was surprised that the newscaster finished his story, which speaks for itself, with a line from a poem by Robert Browning and I wondered how much more of our cultural heritage survived into the twenty-eighth century.  That’s what I was thinking as I waited outside of CBS News’ offices in New York City.  The door opened and the gentleman I had spoken to on the phone came out.

“Tony, we’ve listened to your tape and frankly, we can’t use it.” He said as he handed me back the manila envelope containing my cassette.  “It’s a good story, but how can we prove that it isn’t a hoax.  You know, a lot of these stories end up being fabrications when we get to the bottom of them.”

“I expected that you would be saying something like that.  If you’d come out to my place, you could listen to the radio yourself and see that this is no hoax,” I replied.

“Fair enough,” he said.  “I live out your way and I’ll stop by on the way to work tomorrow.  Would eight in the morning be too early?”

“See you then,” I said.  “You have my address, right?”

“Yup!”

When I got home that evening, my car was missing from the garage where I kept it under lock and key, and the lock showed no signs of having been tampered with.  I immediately notified the police and at about one in the morning, the phone rang. 

“Mr. Green, this is Officer Morton down at police headquarters.  Good news!  We found your car in a parking lot at a mall.  Looks like some kids must have taken it, did some riding around and left it there.  They didn’t do any damage either other than ripping out your radio.  Damn neat job of it, they did, too.  Didn’t leave a scratch.  But that’s no big deal, I guess.  Don’t worry.  We’ll catch them.  We usually do, sooner or later.  Can you come down in the morning, get the paperwork done and pick up your car?  Okay?”

I didn’t reply right away and after a few seconds, Officer Morton repeated his question.  “Are you okay, Mr. Green?  Will you be coming down tomorrow?  Is anything wrong?

“No, Officer.  Everything is alright.  I’ll come down in the morning to take care of the paperwork.”  And I silently added to myself that I knew very well that the police would not be able to catch whomever or whatever it was that departed with my car’s radio.  Not for a very, very long time, anyway.
  

                                                  


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